How North Korea Got Its "Made in China" Nukes


The wild child of North Korea - Dictator-in-Chief Kim Jong-un - has overseen four nuclear tests to date, the earliest in 2006 and the latest just this year. It is now only a matter of time until Pyongyang can order direct strikes on Seoul, Tokyo, or Seattle.

Just how did the Japan, South Korea, and the U.S. let North Korea get the bomb? In my book/film Crouching Tiger, the Free Beacon's Bill Gertz, Princeton's Aaron Friedberg, Forbes columnist Gordon Chang, and the Potomac Foundation's Phillip Karber trace the origins of North Korea's nukes right to China's doorstep.

GERTZ: China is a major proliferator of nuclear weapons technology. Back in 2003 when Libya gave up its nuclear programs, among the documents that were discovered were Chinese language documents showing how to make a small nuclear warhead.

CHANG: China transferred all that Pakistan needed for a splendid nuclear weapon; and then the Pakistanis merchandised that around the world, including to the Iranians. We did nothing about it.

KARBER: China stole some of our nuclear designs and helped Pakistan develop its own nuclear weapons in violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. And we know that because Pakistan then gave those designs to the Libyans, and we found them in Libya. It was our designs with Chinese characteristics.

FRIEDBERG: So China perhaps has gotten a little tougher about proliferation than it was 20 years ago. But most of the major proliferation problems in the world right now track back to China.

GERTZ: So secrets were stolen by China in the 1990's. Those secrets were then passed on to China's ally Pakistan and proliferated around the world, including to the most dangerous rogue states today, Iran and North Korea.

While China, Iran, and Pakistan all have their fingerprints on North Korea's nukes, the biggest dupe of all in this "Mouse That Roared" set piece may well be former President George W. Bush. It is by now conventional wisdom that Bush committed a tremendous strategic blunder by putting far more emphasis on the invasion of Iraq than the pursuit of Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan.

What is far less known is Bush's incompetence in the surveilling of North Korea nuclear weapons program during his 2003 Iraqi invasion. As Brookings Institution analyst Michael O'Hanlon explains in my book/film Crouching Tiger:

O'HANLON: If there was a moment for preemption in North Korea it was 2003 when the Bush administration was more focused on Iraq. Up until 2003, the North Korean bomb material was all in reactor fuel inside a nuclear reactor and in a place where it could not be immediately converted into a weapon. And we knew where it was, and we could watch with satellites, and also inspectors.

Then, the North Koreans kicked out the inspectors, reprocessed the plutonium, and separated it chemically from all the other reactor waste products. At that point, the fissile material became small enough amount that they can put it wherever they want. So we don't know where it is any longer. And they have probably ten bombs worth of material.

As a result of Bush's Middle East distraction - and China's supplying of nuclear technologies to North Korea - Japan, South Korea, and the U.S. are now faced with a nuclear fait accompli. And here's the biggest folly of all: Despite China's prominent role in North Korea's dangerous proliferation, a naïve White House still clings to the unrealizable hope that somehow Beijing will rein its Wild Child.

Against the backdrop of this increasingly perilous situation, it is only appropriate that Gordon Chang and Bill Gertz, along with Richard Fisher of the International Assessment and Strategy Center have these last words from Crouching Tiger:

CHANG: For more than a decade North Korea and Iran have essentially had a joint venture on nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles, and the Chinese have been in the background aiding North Korea in proliferation. This is the nuclear chain reaction.

GERTZ: The Chinese have been the main suppliers of missile technology, and now we have North Korea, a rogue state, which has threatened to fire nuclear missiles at the United States with Chinese made ICBM mobile launchers.

CHANG: The United States has been hesitant to confront China over proliferation. We don't want to anger Beijing leaders. But when some American city is a radioactive slab, it's not going be good enough for an American leader to say: "I could have done something about this, but I didn't want to anger the Chinese."

FISHER: When North Korea and Iran begin selling nuclear missiles to other hostile regimes, then the United States is going to be facing a virtual global whack-a-mole challenge, endless wars, endless challenges, with nuclear armed states.

CHANG: We should be demanding that China stop support of North Korea's nuclear weapons proliferation. China permits Iranian technicians and scientists to transit through its airport, on the way to Pyongyang and back. Every single test of a North Korean nuclear weapon has had Iranian technicians onsite in North Korea. You know, we talk about these Geneva negotiations with Iran, hoping to put the Iranian program in freeze. And we think that if we come to a deal with Iran that we'll be able to do so. The problem is that while we're talking to the Iranians, we have Iranian technicians and scientists in North Korea working on nukes. Take a look at a map, how do the Iranians get to North Korea? Well, we know that they've been transmitting through the Beijing airport. We know this. We track these guys. And what do we do? We do nothing about it. So we're not freezing the Iranian program at all, it's going full speed in the hills of North Korea.

Peter Navarro is a professor at the University of California-Irvine. He is the author of Crouching Tiger: What China's Militarism Means for the World (Prometheus Books) and director of Death By China, a documentary history of China's entry into America's markets. Contact